UCP riding associations give ultimatum to party board on Kenney leadership vote

Presidents of seven UCP constituency associations issued an ultimatum to the party executive on Thursday to keep the vote on Premier Jason Kenney’s leadership to a one-day, in-person vote in Red Deer — or step down. 

7 constituency presidents reject mail-in ballot; 2 MLAs want leadership race now

Rob Smith, president of the Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills UCP constituency association, spoke at a news conference Thursday opposing changes to the review of Premier Jason Kenney's party leadership. (Peter Evans/CBC )

Presidents of seven UCP constituency associations issued an ultimatum to the party executive on Thursday to keep the vote on Premier Jason Kenney's leadership to a one day, in-person vote in Red Deer — or step down.

"We are asking that by noon on Wednesday the executive board do one of two things: restore the leadership review to Red Deer under the terms and conditions originally contemplated or resign," Red Deer-South president Patrick Malkin said during a news conference outside the Alberta legislature.

"It truly is that simple."

Originally, the vote was supposed to take place on April 9, but UCP president Cynthia Moore said Wednesday said it would instead be conducted by a mail-in ballot due to "intense interest."

About 15,000 new members had signed up to take part in the review by the deadline on Saturday and the party was concerned the Red Deer hotel chosen to host the event would be overwhelmed by crowds. The party says ballots will be mailed after April 9 and must be sent back by May 11. The result will be announced May 18.

However, critics within the party membership, including newly elected MLA Brian Jean, are mindful that the RCMP is still actively investigating allegations of voter fraud in the 2017 UCP leadership race that Kenney won. They fear the board moved to a mail-in ballot to increase Kenney's chance of victory. 

"You can't change the rules midway through a process," said Rob Smith, president of the constituency association for Old-Didsbury-Three Hills.

"It is not democratic and it's underhanded. It brings confusion, distrust and contempt." 

Smith said the large numbers of potential voters could be managed by moving the event to Westerner Park in Red Deer and extending voting hours from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on April 9.

Seven MLAs 

The riding association presidents were joined at the news conference by independent MLAs Todd Loewen and Drew Barnes and five UCP MLAs: Angela Pitt  (Airdrie East), Richard Gotfried (Calgary-Fish Creek), Pete Guthrie (Airdrie-Cochrane), Jason Stephan (Red Deer-South) and Dave Hanson (Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul). 

Both Stephan and Guthrie want the UCP to set aside the leadership review and go straight to a leadership race. 

"The integrity and trust in the current system, in the current process, has been lost and completely destroyed with membership," Guthrie said. "The only thing and only option that remains is to just move forward with a leadership contest."

Stephan said the current process has turned into a "circus and a disaster." 

"For the good of the province, for the good of the party, the gracious thing for [Kenney] to do is to step down and support a new leader," he said.

Dan Williams, the UCP MLA for Peace River, supports Kenney's leadership. He told reporters at the legislature that he doesn't understand why the UCP presidents oppose a mail-in ballot. 

"It actually surprises me a little bit to see folks who are claiming to be the champions of grassroots now saying they are afraid of the grassroots having a say," Williams said.

"If we can expand the vote, it's a good thing for democracy in the party."